Baltimore Youth Curfew: Good Intentions but bad timing

I grew up in the “Be home before the lights come on” era.

Simply put, your Mother was telling you she had better be able to see you once it gets dark outside. For whatever reason, that time has come and gone. However, Baltimore City is attempting to now bring back that concept by implementing a curfew for the City’s youth.

If you have listened to any of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s responses to some of the curfew’s criticisms, you know she grew up during this time too. The idea seems to make sense on face value but what are we trying to accomplish here?

Are we attempting to curb juvenile violence? Will a curfew aid in the development of City youth? These are the questions we want solutions to but is there any data out there that shows a curfew will assist with any of these answers.

Baltimore City Council Bill 13-0261

In a nutshell, the bill will have City youth under the age of 14 home or inside by 9 p.m. Teenagers from the ages of 14 – 16 could legally stay out to 10p.m. on school nights and 11p.m. on all other nights. The penalty for the parents of the law-breakers would consist of a $500 fine. The fine could be waived if both the parents and children attend counseling sessions that would be provided by the City.

051414_curfew_110You may be surprised to learn that Baltimore currently has a youth curfew on the books. Children and teens under 17 must be off the streets by 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends. The fine for parents can be up to $300.

Now the new law, just as our current one, does allow for exemptions. Youth can be out if they are accompanied with their parents, travelling to or from work, attending a religious event or interacting in a school or recreational activity.

On the flip side, the bill also establishes a daytime curfew from 7:30 a.m. To 3p.m.The obvious exception would be kids going to school.

The bill’s sponsor, Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott said the proposed legislation is intended to keep small children from wandering the street, becoming victims of crime or suffering from neglect.”

Councilman Scott went on to say, “We have to do something. Young children are out there. … This bill is not about arresting kids. This bill is not about dropping crime. It’s about connecting young people and their families with the services they need.”

But is a nightly curfew the best time or manner in which to deliver services to at-risk youth?

Ray Charles’ lyrics do not apply here. The “Night Time” is not the “Right Time” to help our youth.

Jason Tashea is the Juvenile Justice Policy Director at Advocates for Children and Youth. Advocates for Children and Youth is an independent non-profit organization promoting the interests of children in Maryland. In a piece he wrote for the Baltimore Sun in February, Mr. Tashea referenced a study of juvenile arrest rates for the first half of 2013 that showed the majority of crimes committed by teens under the age of 17 happen during the day and after school.

Only 12.2 percent of these arrests took place among curfew restricted hours. Suffice it to say that kids need to be off the street at night, but it seems they need to be more positively occupied during afternoon hours. It does not help the situation when the City last year closed 20 neighborhood recreation centers.

Maybe in an attempt to rectify the situation, Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s in her State of the City address back in February of this year called for the creation of curfew drop-off centers.

The primary goal of these centers would be to lower delinquency and victimization among our youth while at the same time assessing kids who would be in need of at-risk services.

The end goal seems noble but the means are a tad bit questionable.

Here’s the preface. From 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. the Baltimore City Police Department is going to round up teens under the age of 17 and drop them off at curfew centers. In many cases the kids only crime would be their age and being outside for whatever non-sanctioned reason. At the same time you are going to fine their parents $500 for the violation.

teencurfewI can’t see this interaction being the basis for a constructive engagement between the state and a family. Plus, the centers won’t be able to address the true delinquency problem right after school lets out.

Lost in all this are all the organizations and after school programs who have identified and are presently making strides to provide for the at-risk youth in our communities. We talk about creating new unproven answers when we have existing proven organizations with a track-record of success.

Going forward, these are the organizations that should be studied, admired and most importantly funded. Most likely it will take a community – not government – effort to keep them afloat as they promote change in the City.